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Russell Hobby

Good soundbite, bad policy

Russell Hobby reflects on the Education and Adoption Bill

Posted by Stephanie Broad | September 23, 2015 | People, policy, politics

It feels like much of government education policy has the opposite effect to what it intends. The Childcare Bill, for example, may well reduce the number of places offered and reduce quality, thereby widening the gap between rich and poor. The Education and Adoption Bill aims to speed up the way we tackle underperformance and raise standards. It may well do the opposite too. 

It removes the right to consultation and engagement with local communities. In my experience, lack of consultation and choice tend to alienate people and promote opposition where previously the community was neutral. In fact, on multiple occasions I have seen schools, who intended to convert and find a sponsor, reverse their decision when a particular sponsor imposed on them without any negotiation. 

Parents who have campaigned against the opaque and centralised process of academisation will be dismayed to see themselves dismissed as obstacles to be eliminated. 

To suggest some distinction between 'education experts' and campaigners against academisation is wrong - especially when the evidence for the performance of academies is so weak. There are as many education experts that remain sceptical about academisation as there are who are supportive. 

We fully agree that sometimes you need to intervene in schools where there is long term underperformance, but treating the local community as part of the problem rather than the solution is unhelpful. And self-fulfilling. 

So, on the second point, will the new category of 'coasting' schools actually raise standards? Firstly, it doesn't really tackle what we would describe as coasting schools; it merely adds another burden to schools already under intense pressure. More importantly, to the extent that it will discourage good leaders and teachers from working in challenging schools, it will make things worse rather than better. 

The tools of high stakes accountability and autonomy have been worn out, used to exhaustion. The problems of the next five years are problems of capacity - we have the framework of standards, now it's all about getting good people, developing good people and keeping good people. 

NAHT is looking forward to working with Labour’s new education spokesperson Lucy Powell and continuing our good relationship with shadow schools minister Kevin Brennan. We hope that they both take up the shortcomings of the Bill when they speak in parliament.  

We don't ask much from government, usually it's best if they keep out of the way, but a sustainable supply of well trained staff and the resources we need to deploy them - these are the basics and they're under threat. 

People often ask me why the government doesn’t get this and take urgent action. I think the problem is that they can't address morale and retention without questioning the very base of their ideology. This can't be tackled with tinkering at the margins. Measures that increase the pressure beyond endurance, which the Education and Adoption Bill threatens to do, are very much what John Hattie calls the 'politics of distraction'. They enable good soundbites; they do not enable good education. 

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